The 2015 FIA World Endurance Championship season marks the return of Nissan to the top class of prototype racing for the first time since the early 1990s. The Nissan GT-R LM NISMO is set to be unveiled on 8 December, and is reportedly already testing at Nissan’s top-secret test centre in Arizona. The driver line-up for Nissan’s two-car assault on the FIA WEC remains a mystery.
What has been confirmed is that Nissan’s two full-season entries will be joined by a third at Le Mans, giving a total of six full-season seats and an additional three around the Circuit de la Sarthe. Given Nissan’s ambitious target to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans in its first season in the FIA WEC, the Japanese manufacturer will surely look to pinch one or two drivers with top-line LMP1 experience.
Rumours suggest that Toyota drivers Stéphane Sarrazin and Nicolas Lapierre are the two most likely candidates for a switch to the Nissan LMP1 programme, but there is a wealth of talent in LMP2 and elsewhere in the world of motorsport from which to choose. Nick Heidfeld is another driver with ample experience racing in the FIA WEC’s top category, and his connections to the Japanese manufacturer also extend to a factory drive at last year’s Nürburgring 24 Hours and a role as an expert in GT Academy Germany.
Former-LMP2-stars-turned-LMP1-factory-drivers Mike Conway (Toyota) and Brendan Hartley (Porsche) have also demonstrated the depth of talent in the current LMP2 field. Performances in Nissan-engined cars by the likes of Olivier Pla and Alex Brundle aren’t likely to have gone unnoticed at Nissan.
The Japanese manufacturer also has a number of other major factory or factory-supported programmes elsewhere around the world. In Super GT, drivers such as JP de Oliveira and Ronnie Quintarelli have spent years driving Nissans at the pinnacle of Japanese GT racing. Could we see one of Nissan’s Super GT stars make the transition to prototype racing?
Another key pillar of Nissan’s and NISMO’s racing exploits recently has been the unrivalled success of GT Academy. Since the inaugural competition in 2009, won by Spaniard Lucas Ordóñez, GT Academy has expanded to countless markets and played a major role in building the Nissan and NISMO brands. It would perhaps be the ultimate vindication of the GT Academy programme if at least one competition winner were to be given a LMP1 seat.
Given Nissan’s plan to follow Audi’s lead and field a third car at Le Mans, this provides extra scope for additional drivers without having to commit to full-season entries. Alongside Ordóñez, the most likely candidates appear to be 2011 winner Jann Mardenborough, who has spent this season racing in GP3, and 2012 winner Mark Shulzhitskiy. All have WEC experience in LMP2, while both Ordóñez and Mardenborough have both secured podium finishes at the 24 Hours of Le Mans.
The Nissan GT-R LM NISMO is expected to break cover for the first time in a public test at Sebring, Florida from 9–11 December.
Picture credit: Nissan